Dear Roland Emmerich,
While perusing the blog-o-sphere last week, I, like many others, came upon the movie trailer for your newest film, Stonewall, and I was kinda thrilled to see it.
Then I saw it, and I was less than thrilled. Oh, sure, it tells the story of the fight for LGBT rights, and it tells the story of the Stonewall riots in the late sixties, but it tells them from the point-of-view of a young, white, newly out, kinda straight-looking and crowd-pleasing Midwestern boy named Danny.
But, and this is where I question the film, it isn’t just Danny’s POV, it’s Danny who becomes the kick-starter of the riots; it’s Danny’s story.
And that’s where less than thrilled comes in because there was no Danny there; there was no white boy starting the fight. The fight for our equal rights, the fight for acceptance and understanding, the fight for what would become a fight for marriage equality and equal treatment under the law for LGBT Americans was started by Marsh P. Johnson and Silvia Rivera, a black drag queen and a trans woman, and other black Americans and drag queens and trans women ... not Danny.
So, naturally, a lot of folks in our community — myself included — are enraged by the change, the white-washing of the story, and boycotts are threatened and Twitter is lighting up. But, to be fair, as much as I feel like being fair, I read your statement on the controversy, which goes like this:
“When I first learned about the Stonewall Riots through my work with the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center, I was struck that the circumstances that lead to LGBT youth homelessness today are pretty much the same as they were 45 years ago.
The courageous actions of everyone who fought against injustice in 1969 inspired me to tell a compelling, fictionalized drama of those days centering on homeless LGBT youth, specifically a young Midwestern gay man who is kicked out of his home for his sexuality and comes to New York, befriending the people who are actively involved in the events leading up to the riots and the riots themselves.
I understand that following the release of our trailer there have been initial concerns about how this character’s involvement is portrayed, but when this film – which is truly a labor of love for me – finally comes to theaters, audiences will see that it deeply honors the real-life activists who were there — including Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, and Ray Castro — and all the brave people who sparked the civil rights movement which continues to this day. We are all the same in our struggle for acceptance.”
Now, I’m all for adding fictional characters to a story because it can add depth, and it can add another side to the story, but what you have done — at least from what we were shown in the trailer — is make it appear that the Stonewall riots began because Danny hurled a brick and that is just plain false.
And that annoys me because I’d love to see this story told; this story feels me with such a sense of pride at those who came before me, those who started this march, and it spurred me to come out and join this fight in whatever way I could. And so I would love to see it told well and correct, and that doesn’t seem to be what’s being done.
I’ll withhold all judgment until the film comes out, and, if it comes anywhere near Smallville, I’ll see it, but if the main characters who began this fight, Marsha, Silvia, and Ray, along with a horde of drag queens and trans women, are pushed to the sidelines so we can see what Danny does and how Danny started this all, then I’ll be among the many who are angry.
I know this isn’t an historical film, and it isn’t a documentary, but why can’t a film made about a time in history show us the history, the real history? Is it because mainstream America might be turned off by drag queens and trans women and people of color? Too bad. Do we need to white-wash our history to make it palatable for the general population? Then, as I said on a friend’s blog, why didn’t we have Daniel Day-Lewis play Martin Luther King in Selma? I mean, that would have widened the audience surely, right?
I want my historical films as fact and nothing else; I want the story, not the dramatization of the story; I want the story told from the POV of the people who were there, not fictional people. Marsha’s story, Silvia’s story, any number of those stories, would have, could have, made a breathtaking film about the fight for equality, why muck it up by creating a story when the original story should have been enough?
It just seems to me, Mr. Emmerich, that your film might be entertaining, to some, but it is not the true story of Stonewall.
And that breaks my heart because we deserve to have our story told, and told correctly.